Ironman Kona 2009 Coverage on NBC

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On Saturday, I watched the Ironman on NBC as I do every year when it airs on TV. I find the Ironman to be inspirational, exciting, and even emotional, as I watch all the stories unfold: from the pros racing to win, to the challenged athletes to the people who are still doing the race into their late 70’s.

This year, the highlight of the show for me was watching Chris Lieto make a serious challenge to win the men’s race. Lieto’s best finish ever was last year when he took 6th. For those who have watched the Ironman for a few years, you know that Lieto is usually 1st off the bike, but is known as not being a strong runner, and always loses his lead fairly quickly in the marathon. This year was different, and there was a race. Shocking his closest challenger Craig Alexander I’m sure, Lieto was still winning the race at mile 20! He then battled Alexander for a couple of miles before finally running out of juice. His absolute guts amazed me more than anything in the race.

Although I found my usual excitement and inspiration from watching the show, I was disappointed in NBC’s overall coverage this year. Here are a few of my critiques:

1. They completely dropped the ball on the women’s race. Chrissie Wellington beat a long standing course record set by Paula Newby-Fraser, and this was barely mentioned! Wellington’s feat was even more impressive being that this was her 3rd Kona victory in a row in only her 3rd appearance! The race for 2nd place was an afterthought and they didn’t even show the rest of the elite women.

2. Lieto’s battle with Alexander on the run was not really explained. Lieto was not supposed to be there challenging for the win at mile 21…and hung on for 2 more miles! The real drama here wasn’t really displayed.

3. The swim was given 5 minutes of coverage. Of course I’m going to complain about lack of swimming coverage as a swim guy, but 5 minutes out of 1 hour 25 minute show was even less than normal!

4. The interest stories were mostly discussed in the final 20 minutes. The kid with no legs, Rudy, was an amazing story even though he did not finish the race. Somehow, however, they failed to mention that he completed another Ironman race just a few weeks later!

Maybe it’s time to consider changing the show up next year. Perhaps if NBC was not the only game in town, we may get to see more about the race, and pick up some of the slack. Granted, it’s not easy to cram an 8-15 hour race into a 1 hour show, but I contend that there is room for improvement in 2010 and beyond.